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Climate climate Man-Made

Say “no” to deforestation - celebrate National Tree Day with WhatsOrb!

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by: Ariana M
say  no  to deforestation   celebrate national tree day with whatsorb

This weekend Australia is celebrating National Tree Day – Australia’s largest community tree planting and nature care event. This version the event was introduced in 1996 and since then more than 24 million trees and plants were planted and this year will no doubt increase that number even further.

This event isn’t unique to Australia, many other nations have similar events – Arbor Day, National Tree Planting Day and Greenery Day are just few of the names used around the world. Australia is however unique because it is the only country that has several versions of the same holiday – the folks down under also celebrate Arbor Day in June and some regions have a whole Arbor week!

While names and dates differ from country to country, the idea behind them all is the same: to inspire people to spend time in nature and teach them the importance of environmental stewardship and looking after our planet. We can’t plant trees online, but we can use this day as an opportunity to learn about one of the biggest causes of deforestation – palm oil.

Well, ok, this might have been an overstatement – palm oil itself doesn’t harm the trees, but the unsustainable production methods do. Palm oil is derived from palm fruit that is grown on the African palm oil tree. As the name suggests, these trees originate from Western Africa, but they can prosper anywhere that has plenty of heat and rainfall. Palm oil is produced on 4 of the 6 continents (this excluding Australia and Antarctica), but the vast majority of it, 85% in fact, is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Fastest Forest Destroyer and effects of deforestation

In 2008, the Guinness Book of World Records has named Indonesia “The Fastest Forest Destroyer”. This unfortunate record was awarded to Indonesia for destroying approximately 51 square km (20 square miles) of forest per day in the years between 2000 and 2005. By then, the country has already lost 72% of its ancient forests and half of the ones remaining were considered to be under a threat of destruction.

Most of this deforestation was linked to palm oil production. Land and forest must be cleared to develop palm oil plantations and with palm oil being in high demand many forests were destroyed to grow this profitable crop. Worse yet, there were no governmental regulations in place to prevent deforestation.

Deforestation is a very serious issue and it has many devastating impacts on the environment. When the trees are removed to make way for plantations, the timber and remaining undergrowth are often burned. This releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen dioxide, all of which have negative impact on the climate. With fewer trees acting as natural air purifiers, quality of air has also taken a hit, affecting all living creatures in the area.

Forests and jungles are also a home to a wide variety of animals. When deforestation occurs, these animals are forced out of their natural habitats, injured and killed. Without the protection of their homes, wildlife becomes vulnerable to attacks from poachers and smugglers. One of the most horrifying examples of this is the orangutan population of Borneo and Sumatra. According to government data, more than 50’000 orangutans have died as a result of deforestation in the last 2 decades.
Adult Orangutan with 2 children #nationaltreeday
Many herbivores have had their food supplies destroyed due to deforestation and a lot of them were not able to survive. This in turn has forced the carnivores to look for alternative food sources and some of them have ventured out to human villages in their search for nutrition.

Animals aren’t the only ones who called these forests their home. Many indigenous people were forced out of their homes and faced with a great uncertainty about their future. They were no longer able to rely on the infrastructure they’ve built, they weren’t able to provide for their families in the same way, their whole lives were different in many basic ways.

The palm oil industry has also been linked to human rights violations. Palm oil plantations are a very harsh environment – there’s scorching heat, heavy loads of fruit to carry and sharp thorns on palms that the workers need to climb to harvest the fruits. The workers do not get paid extra for the dangerous jobs they are performing – in fact, many of them are barely able to survive and support their families. Children are also being exploited by the industry and are often unpaid. With there being few other work opportunities in those areas, many feel like they simply have no choice but to continue working on plantations.

Taking first steps on a road to a greener future

Luckily, Indonesian government has recognised the negative impact that the palm oil industry has had on the country and is now working on turning things around. In 2011 a moratorium was established on issuing new licences to use land designated as primary (untouched) forest and peatland. This moratorium has been extended several times since then and it is expected to remain in force for the next several years. 

In addition to the moratorium, Indonesia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with India on July 16th. According to the Indonesia’s Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution this cooperation “is expected to strengthen the sustainable trade of palm oil and its generated products in India and Indonesia”.

Naturally, it will take some time for the harmful effects of the palm oil industry to be reversed and it isn’t possible to completely restore the country to its original state. But we can be sure of one thing – “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”.

Does your country have a holiday to celebrate trees? Or do you have other tree-related stories you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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